Presto Card – Transit payment for the GTA

Toronto has made it to the 20th century. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. Other countries like Singapore and HK have long had the concept of a payment card for almost as long as I’ve been alive and yes, I am old. Although the post might seem a bit snarky, I actually am quite excited about the Presto Card and hope that it will be successful.

As a Torontonian, there are some things to like. By default, it makes the cost of transit automatically the same as a token. Based on your usage, the cost is supposedly designed to cost as much as a Metropass once you get to a certain threshold. The same goes for travelling using the GO Transit. Another big plus is that you become eligible for tax deductions after using it for 32 one-way trips which is great! I also like the convenience of being able to top up on the Internet and auto top up which os rather convenient because I never have cash on me. Some plusses for Toronto in particular is that it will perhaps be able to finally get to a fare-by-distance model which will hopefully be financially beneficial to itself and hopefully to general citizens. While I will be impacted negatively in some ways because I commute from Finch Station to Osgoode Station daily, I hope that the cost of riding within the city will be decreased. I suspect that this will be another source of rich revenue that is currently being lost.

Some downsides is that the roll out on the transit systems that I typically take have been quite slow. I was hoping that more of the TTC and YRT would have been covered by now. So far, I have only been able to use it at Union Station on the TTC although roll out supposedly covers St. Patrick and Finch Station already.

Points: More Together

This is a quick blog about my initial impression of Points. And while I’m an employee of Points, all of the opinions and impressions shared here are mine and do not necessarily reflect that of Points. Now that I’ve got the legal stuff out of the way, on to the blog ๐Ÿ™‚ Although it’s with sadness that I leave Canpages, I’m quite excited to be starting at a new adventure. I’m pretty excited to have landed at Points.com. Points.com is a Canadian start-up that went public (TSE:PTS) in 2004 and is located on Queen and John in downtown Toronto. Although a public company, it still hasn’t lost its start up edge. As an example, I was greeted by Erika, the VP of HR, with mamosas at 10 am in the morning. Granted, it was to celebrate the move to our new office space. 

There were a few things that impressed me before I joined Points:

1) Focus on Quality
A lot of companies talk about desiring quality in the delivery but often times there is little more than lip service to the concept. In all of my conversations with Points, there was a strong emphasis in bringing on senior managers who would advocate quality delivery, which more or less translated to automated testing. I’m a huge advocate of the concept where product quality is not the responsibility of one member or a particular team but rather anyone who is part of the product delivery process. This concept is shared and advocated by everyone of the management team whom I’ve had an opportunity to speak with about product quality.

2) Clear direction
Excitingly enough – there is a five-year plan. I have to be honest here. I was a bit skeptical when I started. Often times in interviews, companies often talk about having plans of some sort but few have actually materialized after I was hired. I was given preview of Points’ five year plan late last week and I have to say that I’m very excited to be a part of the anticipated change. While the details of the five-year plan are confidential, I was particularly impressed with the detail in which it went into.

3) People oriented
The motto of Points.com is “more together.” From a business perspective, it implies that points are worth more when it can be consolidated. From a people perspective, it also means that we can accomplish more as a company of people rather than individuals. Although it’s only been a couple of weeks, there are so many great things from a people perspective here at Points. The first are the simple things such as free pop (or soda for you American folk). I love the fact that there are shower facilities and places to lock your bike up. There is the weekly beer cart that goes around with beer, wine and snacks. This will be the first time in years when I’m not buying snacks for the team out of my own pocket, which is nice :D. But more than that, there are certain HR policies which I connect to such as all my benefits are paid for by Points. I’m more accustomed to having my benefits subsidized and having to pay for the rest. I love the fact that sick days aren’t officially tracked here with the belief that people won’t abuse it. It’s awesome to find a company that trusts its employees because trust is a two-way street. This is especially important to me because in general tech folk tend to work crazy hours. Frankly, I’d rather have a team member take the day off and not worry about using up sick days than coming in and getting more people sick.

Here’s another amazing story for me to tell. I had a special occasion this week with my wife. Being in IT for more than a decade, it’s pretty normal for me to be late and often times even canceling out. My family is used to that. Sure enough an emergency came up, and Dave, the CTO, and I worked through the issue. It took me only an hour longer than I was expected to leave and I still got to my dinner which I quickly postponed. I didn’t think much about it until we got home on Saturday where Dave had sent flowers to my wife apologizing on my behalf. It was a really thoughtful gesture. My wife was quite impressed.

flowers

Another distinct characteristic of the organization is its sense of humour. Everyone who works here seems to have one. Laughter is very common in our scrums and personal interactions.

4) Down-to-earth
Although we have ample space in the building, only a handful of people have offices while everyone including VPs and the CTO have cubicle space and are proud of it. One of the most interesting moments that I had an opportunity to observe was the COO and CTO huddle at the CTOs cubicle to work on something. No one seems hung up on titles and everyone wants to get the job done. People are both passionate and dedicated about their jobs. The constant theme in my conversations with the tech team is ownership. There is the fundamental belief and desire that we own our technology and that we drive our destiny.

Although I’ve only completed my second week here at Points.com, I have to say that I’m looking forward to my time here. The two weeks have gone by quickly and it’s been quite exciting already.

Ride for Heart 2009 Synopsis

I wanted to quickly write a quick blog to thank everyone who sponsored me for the Ride for Heart. While I didn’t meet my goal, I did raise a decent amount of money for a cause that I think is fairly important. Ultimately, this really is a precursor to another ride that I’m very passionate about which is the Ride for Cancer. But more about that when the time comes. I was really touched by the generosity of my family, friends and co-workers. More importantly, I was really touched by donations from some of my Tweeps whom I’ve never met. Here are the list of my donors whom I’d like to thank for all of their generosity on helping work towards my goal: Angelo Berios, Arthur Bydon, Billy Monk, Bonnie Schnurr, Chai-Seng Kang, Danny Soo, Darren Phillipson, Gerry Power, Jason Kwong, Joanna So, Karen Kang, Karen Hong, Keran Singh, Kun On Ip, Michael Lee, Michelle Cerqua, Mui Chua, Nyla Ahmad, Pauline Chan, Roger Pazin, Sanaa Khatri, Saul Colt, Shirly Tran, Stefan Leyhane, Tanzeeb Khalili, Tony Lau, Tristan Cuschieri and Wai Yee Tin. Through the generosity of these folk, I was able to raise $1583. Yes, that’s a really bizarre number I know.

 
So a quick synopsis of the day itself for those interested in some details of the day. The day started out as a comedy of errors. It was definitely filled with both comedy and errors at various levels. Weather forecast all week had threatened to rain but you know what they say – it’s as unpredictable as the weather. I was hoping for at least a decent day for riding – one can always hope but on ride day, the clouds were dark and it was starting to spit rain. After some debate, I decided to run upstairs at the last minute to grab a towel and some extra clothing to change into. I actually enjoy riding in the rain but 3 hours is a long time to ride in the rain and definitely doesn’t do wonders for the car if I was sogging wet. Started to drive and as I was going through the mental checklist in my head, I quickly realized that I had left my registration sticker as I grabbed my extra clothes from upstairs. That, of course, impacted my timeline to pick up my good friend, Karen, who had agreed to ride with me that day. There’s a whole other story about Karen that we’ll get to later. So I was late getting Karen which also automatically meant that I would be late going to meet my cousin, Catherine. Once we got to the parking lot and grabbed the bikes, we realized that Karen needed the tires inflated on her bike… and she did not get her registration sticker before hand. So once we got to the registration desk, it was a mad scramble of getting Karen registered, her biked looked at and getting my cousin, Catherine. That didn’t take long. But in that kafufle, I realized that I had left my water bottle in the car. So that’s how the day began. It could have been ominous but it fortunately wasn’t.
 
It was actually pretty slow starting out of the gates. Not quite the experience I remembered from last year but the weather was really cool without the sun and without a lot of strong wind. I had expected there to be packs of people out of the gate but was fully expecting the pack to break up after ramp going from the Gardiner to the DVP. It usually breaks up there because a fair number of people would hesitate going fast and those of us who enjoy the speed would take the opportunity to break out from the crowd through either shoulder. This was not the case. We were stuck in the pack and did not find the opportunity to break out until slightly after. The DVP is probably one of the nicest places to ride for a bike with such nice and smooth roads that are windy and a decent balance of hills and valleys. It was hard not to break out into short sprints because it’s just so much fun but I would eventually wait up so that both Karen and Catherine would be able to catch up. Don’t get me wrong – they were never that far behind. On average they were usually only about 2 to 5 minutes behind at any given point. I know what it’s like to have to ride by yourself on this kinds of ride and it’s never as much fun as riding with the people you came with. All in all, the ride took us about 2 hours and 47 minutes. It’s about an hour longer than my ride last year with Kish but the good news is that I didn’t cramp at the end which is a bonus. Overall, I had a really good time riding. You could not have asked for better weather and there is no experience like riding your bike on the DVP.

 

Some special kudos to both my riding partners. Karen had never in her life ridden in a long ride before and she started out with a 50KM ride. I personally think it’s a huge accomplishment for her. She didn’t complain and as much as she threatened about pushing her bike up hills, she never once did that. She rode through some of the tougher uphill climbs. I’ve done a tonne of rides with Catherine before so it was no real surprise that she would be able to do the distance. But for a tiny thing, she did really well keeping up with me. Looking back she was always close enough that I could spot her and not worry that she’d be too far off. I enjoyed the chats with both my partners at different stages of the ride and all in all, it was loads of fun. For those interested in numbers – For the 25 KM I managed to get my bike computer working, The trip time was about 1 hours and 16 mins, average speed of 20.66 KM/H, Average cadence of 66 and Maximum speed of 54 KM/H. Really poor numbers but you can’t put the amount of fun in numbers ๐Ÿ˜€ For more pics on the Ride for Heart, you can find them on my facebook link.
 
While the Heart and Stroke Foundation cause is close to home, there’s nothing that hits closer to home than cancer especially for me. So next year, my plan is to do both the Ride for Heart and the Ride for Cancer. Most of my primary focus will go towards raising money for cancer as I believe it’s a $2000 minimum to raise money for that ride. I’ll go into the personal details when I start raising money for that ride.

Tasting Tour Toronto – Beta 2

I really wished I got around to writing about Tasting Tour sooner. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Beta 2 version of the concept last week and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The concept of Tasting Tour is the brainchild of Jaime Woo and Naomi The. Jaime led the tour I was on and described it as a food crawl. Given I’ve never had the opportunity to do a bar crawl, I personally compare it to a combination of a tasting menu and and walking tour. The basic idea of tasting tour is that you get to try a number of food venues in a few short hours.

The idea is great especially in a city like Toronto where there are many different ethnic areas and their associated food and there is a very rich variety of food types. For the consumer, it’s a great way to try new restaurants that you otherwise wouldn’t think of trying or sometimes even heard of. For the restaurants, it’s an easy way to market and fill up the restaurants on days that it otherwise wouldn’t be busy. All in all, it’s a win-win situation for both.

Outside of the people I met, the other highlight of my tasting tour was really the interesting information that I learned about the places I went. I like hearing stories about people or things. It provides context of the event. At Tasting Tour, the owner of both an art cafe and vegetarian restaurant talked about why and how they started their restaurants and also a bit about the food that they made. In my mind, it made us connect with the restaurants so much more. At a teahouse, we were given a really long overview of the different teas. It was not that different from a wine tour. It was fascinating from two aspects – there is so much to know about tea and that the people working there are passionate about the product. The end result – many of us ended up buying tea from them. The night came to a perfect end at a pub where the drinking happens.

Outside of the event itself, I am personally quite intrigued by the idea. It’s the first non-tech startup that I am actually quite interested in. While it may not make Jaime and Naomi fabulously wealthy, I think as an event it could be really successful. There are still a number of things for them to work out but it will be very interesting to see how they grow their idea while I quietly root for them.

Riding for Heart

The Ride for Heart is a charity event that helps raise money for the Heart and Stroke foundation. Heart disease and stroke is responsible for 1 in 3 Canadian deaths every year. In fact, 15 Torontonians will be hospitalized every day this year, making heart disease and stroke the leading causes of death in Ontario. We need to change these statistics. Besides this hitting pretty close to home as I’ve had 2 uncles who suffered from stroke in the past 10 years and a co-worker of mine suffered a cardiac incident this year, for me it’s also a great way to combine doing something I truly enjoy while giving back to the community. Last year was the first time I did this event and had a fantastic time riding with friends and raising money. I started a little late last year but still raised almost $1000 due to some really generous contributors. This year, I’m trying to be more ambitious and triple that amount. The ride takes place on June 7 and I intend to ride 50KM for this cause.

To help me out, you can do any of these things.

1. Donate to me by following this link.
2. Forward my email to people you know to help me raise money for my ride

Thanks so much. Please donate. It’s for a worthy cause.

 

 

 

First Wired Wednesday Event in Toronto

I've never been much of a socializer myself which is a bit ironic because I am fairly public online. I guess in my mind, there's safety in my anonimity because my personal social circle is not particularly large. But I digress… While I've always wanted to attend such events, I never had any real facility to go. It's hard to go to any event not knowing anyone. Fortunately for me, I was lucking enough to be invited by Byron, a friend I met through work. So I went to Wired Wednesday in Toronto last night. It was an event hosted by Red Wire and the plan is to host it once a month. The format was relatively simple. Mingle for about an hour followed by start-up presentations and then key note speaker. The three presentations last night were ParkingSpots.com, Rypple and fonolo.

ParkingSpots.com is a great idea especially in Toronto where parking downtown is scarce to begin with and cheap parking is close to impossible to find. The premise of the site is simply to match parking seekers with parking providers where the parking provider can be anyone such as Joe Citizen to Corporate parking. They breakdown parking needs to hourly and monthly parking. The idea is great especially for those who are looking to rent out an unused driveway or unused spots as additional income. It's also a cheaper means of finding monthly rentals for those who have to commute in everyday.

We didn't get a chance to see Rypple but the premise was to provide a more natural way to provide performance metrics to individuals. I believe that it can be used for personal or professional use. It could also potentially be another means to measure reputation as well. I signed up for the beta and am waiting to hear back.

Fonolo was the most interesting of the three presentations last night. It was a phone crawler that helped you weave through the insane phone support structure that most companies have today. The idea was to be able to select a company and select an action. When you got to the point where you are ready to chat with someone, I believe that it would find a way to call you. That would generally save anyone a bulk of time. The killer feature here is that it could record your conversation with the CSR so you would have a record of it. Future features would include being able to playback to the CSR and publish the conversation to YouTube. I love this idea because it finally puts control back into the hands of the consumer.

 

 

The keynote speaker last night was Mark Evans. I've been a big fan of Mark Evans, if anything because he's Canadian. The topic was the relevance of social media in a corporate world. A couple of interesting facts were that Dell pushes a tonne of sale information through Twitter and IBM has over 15000 internal bloggers.

I'm looking forward to the next event.

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